[Speech] Remembering Vytjie Mentor

I extend warm greetings to ActionSA members here today, members of the media, and South Africans following these proceedings from all over South Africa and, especially, the Mentor family.

It is with great sadness that I stand before you today to talk about someone who meant so much to our organization and to us, personally, and have come to terms that Vytjie has left us.

I would like to express my deepest condolences to the Mentor family.

This must be a terribly difficult time for you, a time where words seem hollow in the depths of your grief. I offer you the warm embrace of hundreds of thousands of ActionSA members who loved Vytjie so dearly that they carry you on their shoulders.

Vytjie knew that love when she was with us and, today, I want you to know that this love is being heaped upon your family from the ActionSA family represented from every corner of South Africa. 

It is difficult to do justice to the life of someone who stood as a giant amongst ordinary men and women, it is a task that I do not envy but a task that falls to me nonetheless.

It is a story that needs to be told to a nation who know too little about the life of one of South Africa’s bravest women. As I tell this story, I have little doubt that you will understand why I came to love and respect Vytjie so much.

Vytjie was born in Kimberly in 1963. Her mother was a school teacher and her father was the first black African Police Station Commander serving in Welkom.

Vytjie used to tell us how her political consciousness arose from her mother who was constantly involved in women’s development programmes in their community. Vytjie’s father grew nervous of her political involvement and sent her away to boarding school in the rural Northern Cape.

He was unaware at the time that Vytjie would come under the mentorship of her High School Principal, a member of the ANC underground movement, and so began her entry into the struggle for freedom in South Africa at just the age of 13.

For her involvement in the struggle, Vytjie was arrested and detained on more occasions than she cared to try and recollect. During one of these detentions, Vytjie embarked upon a 39-day hunger strike before being forced to hospital under heavy police guard.

On another occasion, Vytjie was detained for questioning while members of the security branch planted munitions in her hotel room. This she conveyed to us with a laugh about how amateurly this was done that the case fell apart immediately.

Vytjie was eventually placed under house arrest and full-time police surveillance. She was banned from being in the company of more than 10 people, all of which prevented her from performing her duties as a qualified teacher.

With the advent of democracy, Vytjie worked in the Department of Education and then later as a Councillor in Kimberly where she became an MMC for Social Development. She used to recount this job as one of her favourite experiences because of the work she did in providing clean water to communities.

It was in this role she had her first of many run-ins with the ANC. A Swedish donation of paving stones, meant for the municipality, was allegedly taken and used to pave the driveways of the homes of ANC Councillors.

Vytjie reported this to the then Public Protector who declined to investigate. As was her nature, Vytjie was not settling for that, reporting it to the media. When it became a story, she was charged for bringing the ANC in disrepute. The disciplinary committee found her not guilty.

You see, Vytjie’s fight against wrongdoing didn’t start in Parliament, it started the day she was born.

In 2002 Vytjie was elected to Parliament and became the ANC’s Parliamentary Caucus Chairperson. In this role, it was Vytjie who convinced the ANC to adopt Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s proposal to end floor-crossing, despite proposals from another party traditionally being shot down on principle.

During the contest ahead of the ANC’s Polokwane Conference, she did herself no favours by warning both sides that they would not use and divide the parliamentary caucus for their own ends. But it was not Vytjie’s nature to allow political considerations to come before principles.

After the Polokwane Conference, Vytjie remarked that a bizarre dynamic emerged where the ANC began issuing calls to disinvest in the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor – a project she believed to be of great value to the country for which billions had already been invested. It was this move, that Vytjie believed was paving the way towards a Russian nuclear deal.

Questioning and opposing this move earned her no friends and she soon found herself in the political wilderness. It was only because of the then ANC S-G, Kgalema Motlanthe, someone for whom Vytjie held immense respect, that she became the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises.

Vytjie was one of the ANC MPs put onto a special ad hoc committee to deal with a piece of legislation that proposed widespread powers for the state to breach civil rights, privacy and access to personal communications. When the vote came Vytjie was the only ANC MP to vote with the opposition, effectively stopping the legislation from going to Parliament.

For years, before it became a story, Vytjie had been posting on social media accounts about state capture and the Gupta’s offering her a Cabinet position. It never received attention, presumably because the context of state capture was not yet understood. It was only in 2016 when Vytjie commented on a ratings downgrade by referencing state capture and Cabinet offers from the Guptas that the story went viral.

When the then Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, visited Vytjie to interview her in what became her report titled ‘The State of Capture’, Vytjie spoke of how she encouraged the Public Protector to be decisive, recognizing the unprecedented scenario in which we found ourselves, were the subject of the investigation was also the President and the authority on commissions of inquiry.

She liked to think that this may have played a part in the final report necessitating the role of the Chief Justice in recommending candidates to the President to chair the State Capture Commission of Enquiry.

For her troubles, numerous attempts were made on Vytjie’s life including two assassination attempts in one day. She refused protection and told the police to use their resources to investigate. That was Vytjie for you.

When asked about taking the hard choices she has made in her life and doing what was unpopular Vytjie used to tell us that she regretted nothing.

Vytjie believed what was right was right and she believed what was wrong, was wrong. She did not believe that truth, ethics or virtue could be bent for political expediency. For this she paid the price and was persecuted, yet, she persisted to do what was right.

Vytjie was mistreated terribly at the hands of the state capture commission of enquiry. They chose to disbelieve her testimony and they chose to question her version of events.

They chose to trust that people where were so corrupt that they attempted to buy influence in our country would not have altered the appearance of their home with the impending knowledge that it would become part of an investigation.

Vytjie and I happened to know someone who had been in that home and who has seen what it looked like. This person stood by Vytjie’s recollection of how the home appeared at the time of his visit and it was exactly as Vytjie had recalled it.

But instead of believing the woman whose bravery and dedication to the truth gave birth to the realization that our country was being sold off like shares in a company, they decided to believe the events from profoundly dishonest people.

Does anyone truly believe that the decision to expose state capture, with the ostracizing and assassination attempts, was taken lightly? In South Africa where whistle-blowers get killed very quickly?

Shame on those who cast aspersions on Vytjie’s testimony.

Shame of those who elected to believe the version of events presented by criminals.

Who was the first ANC politician to publicly expose state capture?

Who was it that first refused ministerial promotions being offered by the Guptas?

Who was it who stood tall and said, “I will not sell out my country because I am a patriot”?

Let the history of this country be very clear about one thing; it was Vytjie Mentor whose bravery, self-sacrifice and patriotism resulted in the exposure of the Guptas and the nearly 4 years, R1 billion- and 5437-page state capture commission of enquiry.

I remember the first time that I spoke with Vytjie Mentor, right at the beginning of setting up ActionSA.

I was in awe of her.

I had just finished 3 years as Mayor of Johannesburg where I had watched the ANC and its deployees in the state, do everything in their power to kill the investigations of the corruption I was exposing in the City of Johannesburg.

And yet, here was this woman who was going to war with a powerful gang in her own party. According to her party, Vytjie was supposed to defend these criminals unconditionally, and yet she was defiantly fighting FOR her country and AGAINST corruption.

I want to make it known today.

When ActionSA is in national government in 2024, we will personally ensure that special tribunals are organized to expedite the prosecution of political leaders who have been protected in the state capture saga and more broadly.

We will do this in the brave name of Vytjie Mentor as a reminder to all South Africans that we cannot fear evil people, we must fight them.

When Vytjie accepted our offer to come on board with ActionSA, it was very early days, and very few of the structures that are now in place existed at the time. We were so blessed to have her wisdom and experience, her morality, her ethics and her tireless dedication to her country. 

But Vytjie wasn’t just the sum of her actions to serve her country. She was more than that.

When Vytjie’s health started to fail her, I knew that she needed to step back as the Western Cape Provincial Chairperson.

It is a physically and mentally taxing role on an easy day, and the work of setting up structures from scratch, demands a lot of a person. I could see that for her sake and ours, we needed to intervene.

I tasked our National Chairman, Michael Beaumont and our National Director of Operations, John Moodey, to fly down to Cape Town and have that conversation with Vytjie in person.

It was a dreadful task because we feared the stubborn determination for which Vytjie had become synonymous.

But as Michael and John will tell you, she responded with dignity, grace and pure class.

Vytjie thanked us profusely for recognizing her condition and shared her concern that physically she may not be up for the task. Her biggest worry in that meeting, was that she needed to find a way to continue to contribute to ActionSA and South Africa – something we were all too grateful for.

This was the kind of person that Vytjie was, her stubborn refusal to back down on matters of principle could be tempered, when necessary, by her humility, love and service to her country. 

To the Mentor family, I thank you.

We thank you for sharing Vytjie with us so selflessly.

We thank you for the sacrifices that you have made so that Vytjie could serve our country.

We thank you for the love that you gave her that created the foundation of morals and ethics on which she served her country.

I stand before all South Africans today and give thanks for Vytjie’s life and contribution.

I proclaim her a national hero deserving of the highest honours for her bravery.

I commit that ActionSA will honour Vytjie’s legacy through our actions for the people of South Africa that will be guided by her patriotism, her hatred of what is wrong and her dream for a better future.

I thank you